Connecticut has secrets. Lots of them. Perhaps the locals keep them a secret so the state’s many millionaires don’t have to share with the outside world. After living in Connecticut for more than a decade, this writer set out to explore her adopted state. From polo to wine, she shares some of Connecticut’s secrets, millionaire-style.
I’m a bad Yankee. A Connecticut resident for more than a decade— I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in my adult life—life here mostly revolves around my small town, trips to New York City and airports for travel to far away places. I almost never think to have an adventure close to home.
So when the Connecticut Visitors Bureau asked me to join a two-day tour of local sites, I had to say yes.
Here’s what I discovered:
You can sleep like a millionaire.
Ethan Allen, the furniture company, has a hotel. It’s filled with the company’s elegant, classic but modern furniture. The Danbury, Connecticut-based company built the hotel in the 1970’s to host executives and furniture buyers visiting its headquarters. Recently renovated, the hotel has a warm and inviting feel in both the lobby and public spaces as well in the guest rooms, most of which feature a living room and bedroom of course, the company’s finest offerings. The hotel is a great central location for visiting Connecticut’s charming Litchfield County villages, restaurants, wineries and farms, or to see a show at Ives Concert Park at Western Connecticut University, a wonderful outdoor amphitheater. Rooms from $129.
You can drink like a millionaire.
The state’s deep roots in farming, cold winters, hot summers and rocky terrain are ideal for growing grapes. Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston, Connecticut, transitioned its dairy farm to a vineyard in 1979 and takes wine making seriously.
Hopkins wines are made from 85% or more of the winery’s own grapes and Hopkins is consistently recognized for its winemaking excellence. Set in a charming converted barn, you can take a winery tour, sample the winery’s best at the tasting bar ($8 to sample 7 wines and you get to keep the glass), have a glass or two at the lively wine bar, or have lunch at the second floor restaurant and take in the amazing views of Lake Waramaug.
You can name drop like a millionaire.
George Washington traveled here, slept here and ate here.
Just 10 minutes from Hopkins Vineyard is Washington Depot, named for George and home to the celebrated GW Tavern. Historic in its feel but very modern in its execution, the GW surrounds its delicious menu of New England classics like pork chops and pot pie (and also more modern offerings like crab cakes and veggie burgers) with the charm of a vintage tavern. The barn-like restaurant is complete with rustic views, twinkling lights, cheerful bartenders, great wines and often, live music.
You can soak up the local culture like a millionaire.
It turns out Maine isn’t the only place to find great lobster. On the Northern (or really, Eastern) end of I-95 in Mystic you can sample a truly authentic lobster roll. The Sea View Snack Bar, which is convenient to both Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport, offers the simple and delicious sandwich: lobster tossed in a light dressing and a bit of celery served on a grilled soft roll.
Lobster rolls need to be eaten outdoors, preferably near the water, and with a view of boats. For an even more authentic experience, try Fords in Noank or Abbotts Lobster in the Rough (which is as much about the experience as it is about the lobster). At Abbotts you sit outside and watch the daily parade of boats up and down the Mystic River.
You can see how a millionaire communes with nature.
Head over to New Canaan to see one of the most famous houses in all of architecture, Glass House, home of the famed architect Philip Johnson.
This was the architect’s ultimate challenge: a house with four walls of glass. Johnson eventually bought 49 acres and built an estate. He considered the grounds around Glass House to be ‘very expensive wallpaper.’ Johnson expanded the estate to encompass all he valued in art, nature, friendship and life. He passed away in 2005 (at age 98) and his estate, made up of the Glass House, his studio, painting gallery, sculpture gallery, guest house and more, was turned into a museum overseen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Tours are given May 1-November 30; tickets $25+; reservations are recommended.
You can kayak like a millionaire (if they kayak).
On kayak tours of the rivers and Long Island Sound you can see the waterfront mansions, boats, pools and waterside lifestyle, something you can’t see from the road. Or, you can see the the estuaries, birds and other wildlife that live along the Connecticut coast. Guided tours are available or you can strike out on your own in single or double kayaks.
If you don’t have a waterproof camera you can buy a waterproof bag for your phone for $5; other than that, no special equipment is needed. Our tour with Downunder Kayaking took us up the Saugatuck River in Westport, Connecticut, a short hour-long ride from to downtown Westport. We also could have chosen a standup paddle board excursion or participated in Downunder’s Paddleboard yoga, which amazingly is yoga on a board in a river. Kayak and paddleboard rentals: $30/hour; $45/2 hours; tours, packages include instruction, tours, clambakes and more.
You can play like a millionaire, or at least watch the games they do.
The Greenwich Polo Club, on the grounds of the gated Conyers Farm on North Street in Greenwich, opens its weekly matches to the public. For $40 per car ($60 if you’d like grandstand seats), you can spend summer Sundays on the field watching polo chukkers with world class pony riders competing in this international game. During half time spectators are invited to go out on the field and stomp the divots, or chunks of grass and dirt loosed by the horse hooves and pounding polo mallets. The basic ticket gets you lawn space under expansive shade trees where you can set up a picnic or even bring a table and chairs; many bring a full picnic and make a day of it.
You can eat like a millionaire.
Being just outside one of the greatest food cities in the world, many chefs flock to Connecticut to set up shop. Probably the most famous is Bill Taibe, owner of The Whelk, a seafood restaurant, and LeFarm, a farm-to-table spot just up the road on Route 1 in Westport. Tribe also started a retail outlet and cafe, Craft Butchery, so his customers could bring his well-curated foods to their own tables.
Around the corner from Craft Butchery and The Whelk is Tarry Lodge from celebrity chef Mario Batali, and up the road is Danny Meyers’s Shake Shack. Stamford is the locale of Chopped co-star Aaron Sanchez’s new restaurant Paloma. In New Haven, you can visit what many consider the birthplace of pizza, New Haven’s Frank Pepe and Modern Apizza. For a little more neighborhood comfort, Tavern on Main in downtown Westport is a great place to relax and enjoy the quaint comfort of a historical tavern experience; eat at the bar or in the main dining room, or, venture out on the covered terrace and soak in all the charm of Westport’s main shopping district.
So, now the secret is out: you know where to eat, stay and play like a millionaire
Accommodations and some meals were provided by Visit Connecticut; additional information, research, and opinions expressed, are all my own.